The Rivals | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


THE RIVALS, City Lit Theater Company. This play isn't as witty as Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The School for Scandal, but it does deliver cunning insights on the perverse power of love to inspire the lies that tell the truth. In this 1775 romp, here revived by a company with a Midas touch for 18th-century comedy, romance fan Lydia Languish (a delightfully dithering Heidi Gottcent) dreams of assignations and elopements. To her disgust, her wealthy suitor Jack Absolute (a sly Brendan Farley) offers respectability as well as passion, so he disguises himself as the impoverished "Ensign Beverly." By contrast Jack's pal Falkland (a hilariously anguished Joseph Wycoff) is wrongfully insecure and tests his adoring Julia (the enticing Melanie Esplin) with neurotic doubts and jealousy. Both men must learn to trust the truth.

Page Hearn guides a superb cast in complete control of the comedy, both compassionately depicting and gently mocking love's delusions. As Lydia's dragonlike guardian Mrs. Malaprop, Martha Adrienne mangles her lines marvelously. Since it all clicks, it seems unnecessary to update the action to 1912, though Thomas K. Kieffer's Edwardian costumes are gorgeous. But the Keystone Kops pantomimes that separate the scenes are confusing and beside the point.

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 

Add a comment